1. Laurel
    May 11, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

    This post made me laugh and yes I hate being mistaken for being American (nothing against Americans, but I am Canadian). Stuttgart has a U.S. military base so most of the other expats are American, but even my American friends get excited when on the rare occasion they meet another Canadian and let me know right away, assuming that we’ll have something in common just because we’re two Canadians living in Germany.

    • Andrew
      May 13, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

      Indeed. The examples I mentioned seem to be the nationalities that are a bit prickly about being mistaken. Canadians are part of that. I usually try to avoid other Americans (especially in large groups) when traveling or even living here. I sat in a cafe the other day and was a bit disturbed that the guys next to me were speaking English.
      BtW do you know my friend from Canada?

  2. Sabina
    May 9, 2011 @ 7:35 am

    I do consciously categorize people by their nationality. The world is so huge and diverse, people from different countries really are very different. I think this is a natural way to think about ourselves and others and usually doesn’t involve any negtaive stereotyping. I harbor a lot of American characteristics but have also gotten rid of many others. People are definitely define by their country of origin. It’s only natural.

    • Andrew
      May 13, 2011 @ 9:07 pm

      Thanks for the thoughts and comment. I seem to think of myself as “An American in Germany”, so I guess I do define myself somewhat by them too. Though I often think of myself as not having so many American traits anymore as well.

  3. GoingKraut
    May 7, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

    I think the cultural stereotypes can be fun. As longs as you don’t rely on them too much. Analyzing the cultural differences is one of my favorite things living abroad, however, there is always an exception to the rule.

    • Andrew
      May 8, 2011 @ 7:37 pm

      “Fun” may be the operative word. Keep it lighthearted and keep openminded to keep the fun.

  4. Annie
    May 7, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

    Love this post! I think it’s something that every single traveler deals with. I ask people where their from because I’m fascinated with the world. I pride myself on my attempts to guess where people are from based on their accents (it’s a game that the boyfriend and I play) but I try my best to NOT say “Are you from….” but rather ask where people are from in hope not to guess wrong and offend someone!

    We have a similar story to Runaway Brit above. I’m American, he’s Italian but we met in Australia. When we told some Americans whom we met in Madrid about our story they couldn’t seem to believe it! It actually doesn’t seem that strange to me but maybe that’s because it’s my story.

    I can relate to you Andrew on what you said about people being surprised you speak the language. I don’t even speak or understand Italian nearly as well as I should and I constantly get told how well I speak. I equate this to the fact that Florence is packed full of American students who live here for 6 months or more and can’t even string a sentence together and say “Grazi-Ay” instead of “Grazie”. But then again maybe I’m just stereotyping! 😉

    • Andrew
      May 8, 2011 @ 7:36 pm

      Language and “where you are from?” seem to be pretty tightly bound. Both the “guess the accent” game and the idea that Americans are well known for not speaking anything other than English both play into that.
      I keep thinking I should just stop guessing, but I can’t resist. Even when I get it wrong. I have yet to have anyone truly upset. Some ways the American stereotype of no knowledge of geography can help?
      I like your story, looking forward to hearing more in June.

  5. Runaway Brit
    May 7, 2011 @ 9:27 am

    This is a really interesting post. You address the question that I most hate to answer. I am from Britain, but haven’t lived there for almost five years. Of course if they have any knowledge of England they will then ask whereabouts in England I’m from. I am from Coventry, but haven’t lived there for 17 years (over half my life), it no longer seems like my home. My parents moved to Wales when I was 15. This is where I go when I go back to the UK and I refer to it as Home, but Wales isn’t in England and I don’t have a Welsh accent. I spent many years in both Cheltenham and Northampton and would count them both as ‘home’. I now have a Swedish partner so if we are asked the question when together people seem surprised that he is Swedish and me British. They then ask how we met. We met in Cambodia when I was living in Vietnam…

    See what I mean? The question is a nightmare to answer!!! Despite my dislike of answering the question myself I have to admit that I have used the labels myself, “my housemate, she’s Dutch” and that kind of thing. I’m not sure why, it does seem more convenient.

    I completely agree with your idea that “the more someone has traveled the less they seem to fit the standard picture of their country of origin.” and I have met many travellers that do not fit into the idea of a ‘usual’ Italian, Spaniard or American etc… I am thankful for this because I hope that I do not fit into the stereotype of a Brit: an overweight and badly dressed football-hooligan.

    • Andrew
      May 8, 2011 @ 7:33 pm

      I think there is a difference between the kind of simple labels we use of “she’s dutch” and the full story “where are you from?” answers. One seems to be just a quick mention to differentiate one roommate from another, while the other cuts more toward identity. The identity story means getting it “right” so telling all the twists and turns. I actually kind of like these things as they can begin some really great conversations.

  6. Jeremy B
    May 7, 2011 @ 5:06 am

    Living here in California, I have dealt with this for years. Once people get to know me, they ask if I have lived here my whole life or what part of California I am from. People are surprised when I tell them I am from South Carolina, born and raised. Immediately the response is “wow, you don’t even have an accent!” Without me telling them, they would have no idea.

    Even within the US, we have stereotypes. I am from the South but I don’t hunt or fish, I abhor NASCAR, I don’t have much of an accent, I hate country music, I am anti-Condeferacy and rebel flag (a big deal in SC and ironic considering my ancestry in SC goes back to the 1700s), and I don’t seem to fit in with a lot of people I grew up with at all. I love my family and college football but that’s about as Southern as I get.

    When I’ve traveled in Europe, I can pick out Americans from a mile away. I don’t look American when I travel. It’s just not me. I wear plain clothes, don’t wear shorts, and am not carrying a fannyback, wearing white sneakers, or talking loudly. Yes, we all have stereotypes but I guess I am a good example of one person who just doesn’t fit them.

    Excellent post on this. Absolutely loved the writing!

    • Andrew
      May 8, 2011 @ 7:24 pm

      Right, this effect happens for most regions too. The “where are you from?” doesn’t have to be a country, but could be far more specific. To those from that country, various regions have their own stereotypes. I get the “but you don’t have an accent” as well when I mention where I am from.
      We shall have to compare our “southern accents” in June.

  7. Andrea
    May 7, 2011 @ 2:35 am

    I often dread this question because my answer is so long. I’ve just been saying I’m from Australia and dealing with the funny looks regarding my Ausmerican accent. Poor John: he often gets branded American because his accent isn’t very strong and he’s with me. I rarely ask where travellers are from but it is the first question out of most people’s mouths.

    • Andrew
      May 8, 2011 @ 7:22 pm

      Well in business networking circles the first question seems to be “what do you do?” So for travelers “where are you from?” and perhaps even better “where have you been recently?” is our form of the standard opening. You need a basis for a conversation of any kind, so the generic questions are good for that. The Where is just what we find more interesting.

  8. jamie - cloud people adventures
    May 6, 2011 @ 11:00 pm

    interesting post.
    ive thought about this before since i can see it in both a positive and negative light. knowing where someone is from can give you pointers on what they might be into, conversation starters, etc. but i still think its crazy that people assume so much about a person just because of where they are from.
    im an aussie with blonde kind of messy hair which often pretty much instantly makes me a pro-level surfer with an iq of 7 who loves beer, vegemite, can only speak one language (a strange version of english) and i enjoy throwing a shrimp on the bbq. some of these are true.

    • Sabrina
      May 6, 2011 @ 11:05 pm

      That’s too funny 🙂 But it’s probably also true… that’s what most people think when they hear “Australian” 🙂

    • Andrew
      May 8, 2011 @ 7:20 pm

      Right, they need to be used as starters, not as enders. Especially not as full explanations.

  9. Sabrina
    May 6, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

    So true! I am always, always introduced as “This is Sabrina. She’s from Geeeermany.” It doesn’t even matter if it’s a private conversation or a business meeting.

    I don’t really mind it most of the time because it gives people a heads up about me not knowing all the little cultural details in Texas and the US on how to behave in specific sitiations. That’s really quite important since most people can’t tell by my accent that I’m not American. It also prevents some awkward moments, like when a lady who didn’t know where I was from sort of went on and on about how Europeans always wear thongs to the pool, because, quote, “that’s just what they do”. By the way, I don’t own one and neither do I know anybody who does. Aaaanyways, giving people a heads up about that can help. That is, if they know that Germany is in Europe… but that’s a whole another story.

    Sometimes it also bothers me to be “the German”, because while I am proud to be one (Ha! You don’t hear that kind of patriotism often from a German, right?), there’s also much more to me than “just” being German…

    • Andrew
      May 8, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

      Right. This is so the point of the article. An identity is so complex, and expats and travelers even more so. Being from a place isn’t everything, especially for travelers, but it does give a good way to give a hint which cultural things to expect. 🙂